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Complete Winter Traveler

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There’s a saying that goes “Survive a Midwest winter and everything else is easy.” It’s not just about surviving winter, though, it’s about thriving during the coldest months of the year. One way to do this is to leave the comfort of your igloo and explore, explore, explore. We highlight a few of the best travel destinations.

Northern Minnesota

North Shore

Lake Superior is a kaleidoscope of water and sky—sometimes sparkling and sometimes moody—dramatic in winter, spring, summer, and fall. Covering 31,280 square miles (the size of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Rhode Island combined), it’s also the largest freshwater lake in the world, and provides an unforgettable backdrop to destinations along the shore, such as Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior and Cove Point Lodge. The area is laced with cross country ski and snowmobile trails, home to downhill skiing and boarding at Lutsen Mountains – the Midwest’s largest ski resort, and the perfect place to explore on snowshoes.

Bluefin Bay guests can relax and simply enjoy the calming snow-covered sounds of Mother Nature on a quiet morning, the smoky smell of wood-burning fireplaces, and the brilliant hues of a vivid blue sky against a blanket of white. The well-designed and appointed Bluefin Bay offers both hotel rooms and luxury townhome accommodations, complete with crackling fireplaces, private Jacuzzis, lake views and vistas that rival those anywhere, and access to a year-round outdoor pool and hot tub, an indoor pool, two award-winning restaurants and spa services at the North Shore’s only destination spa – Waves of Superior Spa. Bluefin Bay is located less than 10 minutes from the Lutsen Mountain Ski Area with free shuttles all winter. bluefinbay.com

Cove Point Lodge is a Scandinavian-style lodge located on 150 heavily wooded acres, approximately four miles east of Split Rock. covepointlodge.com

Cook County

When you regularly get 120 inches of snow and you sit further north than nearly all of Minnesota, it’s easy to claim best of winter. But Cook County does more than claim. It delivers like a perfectly thrown snowball. In Cook County—which includes the city of Grand Marais, Lutsen + Tofte, Grand Portage, and the Gunflint Trail—you will find:

• Nearly 450 miles of wilderness snowmobile trails.

• The largest groomed cross-country skiing trail system in North America (400 km).

• Lutsen Mountains, the Midwest’s largest ski resort.

• The 57-mile Gunflint Trail scenic byway.

• Restaurants. Lodges. Galleries. A casino.

• And a mittened fistful of winter events. Oh, and not to mention two million acres of the Boundary Waters, plus the world’s largest freshwater backdrop. Donorth.mn

Bemidji Area

According to Cross Country Skier magazine, Bemidji is one of the most attractive areas to ski in the country. That’s right, the entire country. Over 160 km. of challenging and scenic trails can be enjoyed at Bemidji’s eight trail sites. Most trails are groomed and tracked for both classical and skating ski techniques. The Montebello Trail offers a lighted trail for night skiing, open until 10 p.m., and the Buena Vista Ski Area, home to the internationally famous Minnesota Finlandia Ski Marathon, is recognized as having some of the finest trails and scenery in the Midwest (and 16 downhill runs, the longest at 2,000 feet with a 230 foot drop).

“The Finlandia is truly an international event, drawing elite skiers from around the world,” explains Cindy Habedank with Visit Bemidji. “The Minnesota Finlandia is a world-class athletic event, open to everyone.”

The Meadow Lake Trail is perfect for the non-groomed back-country skiing enthusiast (you can even bring your dog), the Three Island Trail offers 14 miles of gently rolling trails perfect for beginners and families, and includes the most scenic and popular trail in Bemidji which parallels the briskly moving snow-capped waters of the Turtle River, and at Lake Bemidji State Park, scenic trails wind through the forest and skirt the lake. The area also draws snowmobilers, with 14,000 miles of trails, many of which are groomed and well-marked with directional and caution signs. visitbemidji.com

Western Minnesota


Going to an indoor waterpark in the dead of winter is a pretty surefire way to beat the winter blahs, and Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center—located two hours northwest of Minneapolis off I-94 in Alexandria—has one of the best indoor waterparks around. The 38,000-square-foot indoor waterpark features three exhilarating four-story slides, a “Lazy River” innertube ride, a tropical whirlpool spa, and plenty of excitement for the little ones. The fun continues with an indoor pool, whirlpool, fitness center, spa facility, on-site restaurants and lounge, and a huge indoor tennis facility (open year-round). If you want to play outside, you can rent a snowmobile, cross-country skis, or ice skates, try ice fishing, hit the Snow Center sledding hill (sleds are available free of charge), or play broomball or hockey on the Lake Darling rink.

Accommodations at Arrowwood range from lodge rooms and suites with lakefront views to luxurious four-bedroom townhomes.  arrowwoodresort.com

Another fantastic lodging option in the area is the Holiday Inn Alexandria, a full-service hotel with a spacious indoor recreation center including a swimming pool, whirlpool, wading pool, sauna, fitness center, game room, volleyball court, basketball, pool table and ping-pong. Classic American fare is served in Rudy’s Redeye Grill. For the snowmobilers, miles of scenic Minnesota trails are connected from the parking lot. Andes Tower Hills, just minutes from the resort, offers downhill skiing, tubing, and snowboarding. hialexandria.com

Detroit Lakes

As if a lush and inviting hotel experience wasn’t enough, now there’s one more excuse for a girls’ getaway—fun themed weekends at the Lodge on Lake Detroit: the “Hunting Getaway Weekend” during hunting opener Nov. 5-6 and a “Womens’ Wellness Weekend” Nov. 12-13, 2010. The Hunting Getaway includes a comedy show, spa time at the on-site The Spa Within, and live music; the Womens’ Wellness Weekend includes spa time, wine glass painting, and a (sure to be hilarious) murder mystery event. Attendees will receive “character cards” prior to the event so they can bring an appropriate costume to add to the fun of the dinner/wine-tasting/murder mystery (and you thought you’d never get to wear those old bridesmaid dresses again!) Guests staying at the Lodge on Lake Detroit in the winter months can reserve an ice house for a nominal fee. The Lodge on Lake Detroit is not your typical lodge, it is a lakefront lifestyle hotel. All 55 rooms and suites face Big Detroit Lake to take advantage of the sunsets; most feature private balconies or lake walk-outs.

The focus at the hotel is on positive energy, pampering and experiencing the beauty of the Detroit Lakes area.

Southern Minnesota


With the Mississippi River on one side of town and majestic limestone bluffs on the other, a more beautiful place than Winona is hard to find. This charming city—located in southeastern Minnesota—is home to historically significant buildings, a variety of dining, shopping, and lodging options, and numerous recreational opportunities.

Winona has also earned a reputation as an arts and cultural mecca, with four museums (the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, Watkins Museum/Store, Polish Museum, and the Winona County Historical Museum), Garvin Heights Vineyard, and Sugar Loaf Antiques and Crafts (120 vendors in one building). While visiting, stay at a B&B, hotel/motel, or cottage, inn, or lodge. visitwinona.com

Sights and Attractions:

Garvin Heights Overlook - Spectacular views of the Winona area from 545 feet above the Mississippi is 20-30 miles up and down the valley.

Frozen River Film Festival - The Frozen River Film Festival, set in 2011 from Jan. 26-30, identifies and offers programs that engage, educate, and activate people to become involved in the world. These programs provide a unique perspective on issues not often covered in the local media. 

Cross-country skiing at Frontenac State Park, Great River Bluffs Park, and St. Mary’s University. 

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